Coaches ask Favre to play safe
McCarthy seeks consistent, low-risk effort from QB
By BOB McGINN
Posted: Aug. 14, 2007
Green Bay - Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Steve DeBerg and Jim Harbaugh were asked to manage football games. Brett Favre was asked to win them.
But winds of change are blowing through the National Football League's smallest city these days. Favre has made precious few of those "wow" throws that marked his first 15 summers with the Green Bay Packers, but the head coach remains unconcerned.
"In '99 there'd be one a day where you'd go, 'Holy (bleep), I can't believe he made that throw,' " Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. "It's not like the old days, but to me that's good, because I don't need him to play like a wild stallion anymore. We're not built that way."
McCarthy only hinted at the formula that he and Ted Thompson apparently have adopted for 2007: low-risk offense, rock-ribbed defense.
"Brett needs to go out and have his best year statistically that he's had in quite some time," McCarthy said. "Completion percentage. Low interceptions. We're going to have a good field-goal kicker."
Favre cut his interception total from an NFL-leading 29 in 2005 to 18 last season. But his 56.0% completion mark was the lowest of his career and his yards-per-attempt rate of 6.34 was the second-worst of his career.
Now Favre is being asked to take even fewer chances, accept the beauty of field position and let the defense win the game.
It's hard to say where Favre is coming from these days. In practice, he has exhibited almost none of the happy-go-lucky qualities that lightened the camp load. And in his infrequent strolls through the locker room during media periods, he has had a blank expression on his face.
On Tuesday, Favre never laughed once during a 27-minute briefing with reporters. He spoke of his enthusiasm for the task at hand but his body language really didn't back it up.
"He's disappointed about Saturday night, he really is," McCarthy said, referring to the No. 1 offense's inability to pick up a first down in four possessions during a 13-9 exhibition victory in Pittsburgh. "And two weeks ago, with Rocky's passing... rough couple days."
Rocky Byrd, the stepdad of Deanna Favre and one of Brett's closest confidants, died unexpectedly July 28.
Has McCarthy received any indication from Favre that coming back for a 17th season was a mistake?
"Oh, no," McCarthy said. "But I will say this. I think sometimes the negativity that he hears, the 'We should have done this for him, we should have done that for him,' that wears him out."
Favre pushed hard for Randy Moss. He perhaps fought to re-sign Ahman Green. He might have advocated the signing of an unrestricted tight end.
Instead, Moss is in New England, Green is in Houston, Donald Lee is starting at tight end and the leading offensive newcomer in Green Bay is rookie running back Brandon Jackson.
"There's two ways to look at this year," Favre said. "You're a young football team with a mature quarterback who has seen it all with a defense that by most people's standards is the best of our three (phases). You may not score many points . . . so don't make any mistakes.
"Then again, what happens if we have to score points? I'm kind of in-between that right now. At some point, you've got to turn it loose."
The inept, mistake-riddled effort by the starting offense in Pittsburgh prompted this from Favre: "I was as frustrated when I came out as I think I've ever been in pre-season."
When asked about the playoffs, Favre shrugged and said, "Let's try to beat Seattle this week and get better. Would I love for us to win and go to the playoffs? Absolutely. Do I think that can happen? I do. Do I think we could struggle and make it harder on ourselves? We can go one of two ways, or hang in the middle."
But then Favre returned to some of the themes aging quarterbacks have forever had in common.
He talked about his glory days a decade ago when a talented and experienced cast knew exactly what one another would do. He spoke about how his fresh-faced teammates "keep me youthful." And he talked about compartmentalizing his approach in '07.
"They know," Favre said, referring to McCarthy and Thompson, "as well as I do, what we're up against offensively. It's a lot different than five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago. But at some point, I have to play the game."
If truth be told, Favre has been rather ordinary this summer. There was a time when his plays and his throws stood out starkly on the practice field. That isn't necessarily the case anymore.
Favre, however, is cutting no corners, according to McCarthy. He put in eight weeks of drudgery working with a personal trainer leading up to camp, and his willingness to prepare doesn't seem to have ebbed.
"Friday night at the hotel in Pittsburgh, I go down to check on things, and Brett's there watching film," McCarthy said. "He did 2½ hours of film study, and he's going to play 12 plays. We probably had 10 to 15 guys that came in.
"I'm leaving (Lambeau Field) Sunday night and he's coming back in. If anything, I have to restrain him. He's big into play selection. His mind is always about football."
Does McCarthy automatically assume that Favre will play effectively?
"I don't think you can," he replied. "I think it's an easy mind-set to fall into, but he needs to be coached like everybody else. We get on him, but 99 times out of 100 he's already saying, 'I screwed that thing up.'
"But it is different. You're talking to a guy . . . that views the game like a coach. Sometimes he worries too much. This guy is a lot more dedicated classroom-wise and schematically than he was in '99 when I was coaching him. Not even close."
When publicist Jeff Blumb halted the interrogation, Favre turned stage right and shuffled slowly away from the podium.
It's a new season for an old quarterback charged now with not losing the game. How Favre performs, and chooses to perform, without seasoned professionals around him might well tell the Packers' story in '07.